“a resident on Benton Street had a car seat she was carrying knocked out of her arms by a passing vehicle whilst on the side of the pavement…Fortunately for her and us all, the seat was not occupied by a child.”

However, she emailed me the following day to confirm that there was a baby in it. Fortunately, it was a car and not an HGV. If it had been an HGV, I suspect that the event would have been tragic.

Finally, in Sudbury, the main market town in the constituency, a recent incident occurred at an intersection in a key retail part of my constituency. A lorry that should never have come down that road attempted the bend, severely damaging the frontage of a retail outlet selling ladies’ fashion. It is fair to say that in a town like that in a rural constituency, such things are a big deal. The incident occurred right next to the site of a major fire last summer, which was probably the biggest incident in my constituency since I was elected. It is demoralising for the town, and people want action to be taken.

I am not naive. I mentioned Harry Potter, but I know that there is no magic wand that can easily solve the problem. I have had frequent meetings with Suffolk County Council. Although we do not have Harry Potter, we have Councillor James Finch, who holds the transport portfolio for Suffolk. He is doing his best for the area. We are constantly considering what can be done, but there is one thing that the county council cannot control: sat-nav. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet has hit upon the nub of the problem. He mentioned the TomTom Trucker and other solutions. I would have thought that the industry could come up with a solution, given all the technology available; I am interested to hear from the Minister whether there is anything that the Government can do to force the industry’s hand.

All I can say is that, whatever steps my hon. Friend wants to take to raise the issue and to keep up the pressure—forming action groups or whatever—I will be more than happy to support him. I commend him for securing this debate and hope that we can find a way to keep HGVs out of these beautiful ancient villages and stop them damaging the infrastructure that is key to quality of life for our constituents.

3.5 pm

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir Alan. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) on securing this debate. He made an excellent speech covering a wide range of subjects, and I commend him for it.

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When the hon. Gentleman apologised for the technical nature of the debate, I started wondering whether I was the right person to sum up on behalf of the Scottish National party, as I am a bit of a technophobe at times. However, it was good to hear about GPS and how all these things come together. He clearly understands the heart of the issue. It is an important constituency matter. I am not very familiar with the local geography of Kent, but when I looked at a map before coming to this debate, I promised myself to get back to the area. It has been a long time since I travelled through there—I was much younger—on my way to continental trips.

In terms of some of the examples that the hon. Gentleman gave, things in my constituency are not quite so intense, because where I come from we obviously do not have that level of traffic or any ports. However, there are some small villages in my constituency with issues involving the HGVs that traverse them, so I can empathise on that basis, although on a much smaller scale. Householders complain about vibrations and say that frequent HGVs loosen manhole covers, which seems trivial but becomes a regular noise issue and an irritant for residents nearby. It is another hidden consequence of heavy traffic that people do not realise. In my area, I have asked for improved signage to keep HGVs on motorways and the dual carriageway network, so we will see where that goes. It is a slightly different matter from sat-nav, but the hon. Gentleman also rightly spoke about signage appropriate for HGVs.

Other hon. Members made some good points as well. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) highlighted how serious the issue is in his constituency, where the average is two incidents a week. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) taught me a wee bit more about Harry Potter. Likewise, I do not know much about Harry Potter, but it must be serious when a Harry Potter film set is being damaged. He quoted clear, important personal testimonies about how dangerous and concerning the issue can be for his constituents. He is absolutely right to highlight those. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) correctly spoke about the general stress and pressure suffered by his constituents as a consequence of this problem.

The hon. Member for South Thanet correctly spoke about the good and bad uses of sat-nav. If it is used properly, it is generally safer, as drivers are less likely to get lost. Equally, drivers can become too dependent on sat-nav. At one time, it was normal practice to check a map before setting out in order to understand the geography of the route. He cracked a joke about being a Luddite and going back to looking at maps, but there is definitely merit in looking at a map. It made me remember a time when it was commonplace to try to drive, look at signage and look at a map in the passenger seat, which is clearly not the safest means of driving either.

It seems from previous Government consultations and reactions that there has been a reluctance to legislate. I agree with the suggestion about decriminalisation and allowing local authorities to undertake civil penalties, which would allow much greater local control, local signage, local understanding and local action. It would resonate well with constituents, who would understand and who like to see their local representatives taking action.

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Another potential issue that I have identified ties in with the high frequency and volume of foreign drivers going through hon. Members’ constituencies due to the international nature of ports. There is a skills gap in the UK HGV industry at the moment. The industry estimates there is a shortfall of some 50,000 drivers. If the skills gaps are not being filled in this country, that will result in the roads being used even more frequently by drivers less familiar with the geography.

Royston Smith: It is interesting to hear foreign drivers and sat-navs talked about, although it is not all about sat-nav, as it happens. We in Southampton had to put in an engineered solution to prevent HGVs from going through a residential area. We had an expensive traffic regulation order and an expensive engineered solution, and within a couple of months a foreign driver following a sat-nav got stuck in the engineered solution that was there to prevent him going into the road. Is that something that the hon. Gentleman recognises?

Alan Brown: It is not something that I have personal experience of, but it ties in with the points made by the hon. Member for South Thanet about the need to update the technology, to share data and perhaps to make it mandatory not to use out-of-date equipment. If someone is caught using out-of-date equipment or non-HGV-compliant equipment, it could be taken away, and that would solve the problem that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen has identified.

I mentioned the shortage of skills in the HGV industry. Perhaps the Government could subsidise a training course and help to fill the skills shortage in the UK. I think that would lead to safer driving as well.

Again, I commend the hon. Member for South Thanet for securing this debate, which has been excellent. He has identified solutions to the problems, which is commendable because it is too easy to identify a problem but not advise how to address it. Given that not much seems to have happened on the back of previous Government consultations, which we are now some years on from, I urge the Minister to consider the sensible recommendations that could lead to substantial improvements.

3.12 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) on securing this important debate. Before I address the points that have been made, it is worth recording that our thoughts are with the people of Brussels today. The security services have been bracing themselves for such an event—I guess all of us have—but when it does happen, it does not shock or affect us any less. This is a debate about transport and how we get about, and it is significant that today’s attack was about hitting the ways in which we get about. It was about hitting airports, metro stations, people trying to get to work, and people trying to see friends and families. We must have resolve, because it is no accident that terror tries to hit our ability to see each other, which is vital to society’s functioning. That is why terrorists must not succeed.

To return to the subject of today’s debate, the hon. Gentleman made some excellent points. He showed that he has a knowledge that well surpasses mine about, as

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he described it, the wizardry involved in GPS and other satellite navigation systems. Not only is he familiar with the high-tech end of it, but he was able to use the word “map”, which we do not do enough.

Other hon. Members made important points about the impact on their constituencies. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) mentioned something that I did not know about; he said that the problem has actually affected a Harry Potter set. If that is the case, it is certainly serious. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) also made some really important points. I welcome the Minister to the debate. I know roads are not her normal area of responsibility, but I have no doubt that she will respond to the debate in detail. I have a sneaking suspicion that she might even say something about how this problem affects her own constituency.

Our freight and logistics sector keeps the shelves in our shops stocked, and, in a literal sense, drives economic growth. Our lorry drivers in particular deserve to be commended for that. There are not many other occupations in which someone’s place of work means they are unclear about where they are going to get their next meal, where they will next sleep, and even when they will next get to use the toilet. We have heard today about the chaos that has been caused in Sandwich and in other parts of the country, often due to the inappropriate use of the wrong kind of GPS systems, which can have far-reaching consequences not only in the south-east but across the country. The problem not only puts the health, welfare and safety of drivers at risk but, as we have heard, can be a blight on the lives of residents in urban and non-urban areas alike, on the experience of other road users and on businesses.

The problem reflects the much wider challenge of better connecting our roads and vehicles using technology. Technology and innovation are important keys to better, smarter, greener motoring and road transport. To achieve that, we have to get the system working together far better than it is at the moment through information sharing, and enforcement has a role too. We need to consider the wider factors that contribute to congestion everywhere. I will come on to the factors that specifically affect South Thanet and Kent.

Royston Smith: We are talking now about sat-navs in HGVs, but eventually we will have driverless cars. That is the way we are going. All vehicles will depend on sat-navs, so does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is really important to sort this out sooner rather than later?

Richard Burden: The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. I say that with my other hat on, because as well as being shadow Transport Minister, I chair the all-party motor group. The expansion of technology in the automotive industry has made us talk about the extent to which information systems are attached to motor vehicles, but given the way things are now moving, it might be more accurate to talk about motor vehicles being attached to information systems. That could apply to other modes of transport as well.

Technology is certainly changing the game as far as safety standards in the freight sector are concerned. The quality of bespoke HGV sat-navs, where they are used, offers everything from digital route shaping and traffic updates to active lane guidance and HGV-tailored road

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information. That is a good thing, but given the sheer volume of HGV traffic passing through places such as Sandwich, it is clear that top-of-the-range HGV-specific sat-navs can be really important. The hon. Member for South Thanet was right to pay tribute to the Freight Transport Association for promoting the use of such systems, but not enough drivers rely on such equipment. Too many HGV firms and drivers rely on generic sat-navs or free-to-use options.

It is important that Ministers consider the extent to which drivers take up bespoke sat-navs and what can be done about that. As the hon. Gentleman said, there was a sat-nav summit in 2012—I cannot remember the name of it, but he mentioned it—and it was not clear what flowed from that. I am concerned about the apparent absence of objective targets or a means of assessing the take-up of bespoke systems, which makes it difficult to track progress. It will be important to work with sat-nav manufacturers and the other technical companies involved to improve the accuracy of all the systems on the market. That was started in 2006 under the previous Government, as I think he mentioned, but progress has not been as fast as it should have been and certainly has not kept pace with the technology.

As the hon. Gentleman said, lobbying for better data sharing with manufacturers was included in Kent County Council’s freight action plan of 2012. I have a question for the Minister about that. What are the Department and Highways England doing to support local authorities in their communications with mapping and technology companies, to ensure that lorry-appropriate routes are better ingrained in as many sat-navs as possible—hopefully in all of them? With better information on all map applications, we will go some way towards improving the spread of knowledge.

We also need to look at some of the wider factors that I have referred to. Highways England must play a leading role in promoting joined-up thinking between local authorities, the emergency services and others. Unfortunately, recent incidents on the M5 and M6, where there were avoidably long closures of the whole road, show that things are not up to scratch in that respect at the moment. Without such strong partnership working and live information sharing through road signage, HGV drivers will inevitably make their own decisions, including about diversions.

A second question for the Minister, therefore, is what lessons her Department has taken from recent motorway closures about improving live traffic updates and the management of such incidents. I ask that because of a worrying response that I received to a recent parliamentary question, from which it appears that only half of all local authorities have a major incidents contingency plan in place with Highways England, a year on from its establishment. Surely sorting that out should be one of its priorities. Can the Minister get to the bottom of that, or ask her departmental colleagues to do so? Will they also find out why in so many places a course of action has still not been established for managing HGV traffic and other road users in the event of a motorway closure?

It is important for local authorities to have plans, but also that they should have the resources to enforce them. In a written answer last July the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough

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(Andrew Jones), made it clear that all other traffic management policies, including issues to do with HGVs and sat-nav devices,

“are the responsibility of local traffic authorities”

and the police. Does the Minister share my view that following last week’s critical Select Committee on Transport report on road traffic law enforcement, there is a need to think again about that approach? The report found that the reduction in the number of offences being recorded does not represent a reduction in the number that are actually being committed, and that if enforcement of road traffic laws is to be effective, the decline in the number of specialist road policing officers must be halted. I look forward to the Government’s response to that report.

Concerns about traffic enforcement bring me back to the specific enforcement issues and other factors that affect the south-east and Kent. During a recent visit to talk to businesses in Kent, I heard at first hand about the traffic chaos that accompanied 32 days of Operation Stack last year. It was made clear to me that support and assistance from central Government are essential. That echoed what the Opposition have been saying consistently: this is not just an issue for local authorities, the police and others in Kent. Keeping the roads clear through Kent is an issue of national importance, and the Government’s preparations should reflect that.

I was therefore astonished to read late last week a written answer from the Department for Transport confirming that the Home Office will not provide any additional funding to avert a repetition this year of last year’s chaos. That is despite the fact that the police and crime commissioner for Kent stated in a press release in August that the Government had given her assurances that funding would be available. My question to the Minister—if she does not have the answer today, perhaps she will ask her colleague the Roads Minister to write to me—is whether the PCC for Kent was wrong about the assurances she said she was given in August, or whether that was a broken Government promise.

The situation certainly does not bode well for this year. Ministers have not satisfied anyone about what they are doing in the short term to prevent a repetition this year of last year’s scenes. There are plans for lorry parks and for improvements to slip roads at junction 10a, but they will not help this year. They are for future years. Without additional central Government assistance, it seems that the region is being left to handle congestion on its own. It cannot be said that last year was exceptional. HGVs are already being turned away from existing lorry parks, so how likely is it that the effect will be drivers rerouting back along roads and parking at inappropriate places? I asked the Roads Minister about his action plan for that in Transport questions recently, and I did not get any clear answers.

That issue is relevant to the debate, because the key point is how we ensure that traffic keeps moving through Kent. What is the Department doing to ensure that all road users, particularly HGV drivers arriving at cross-channel ports, know where to find the live traffic information they need, particularly at times of major snarl-ups such as the summer months? If there is a particular problem with drivers coming in from across the channel, how is the Department working with other countries, and road haulage companies in those countries, to make sure that

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all HGV drivers know of the routing restrictions in the south-east? How can technology be used to assist in that process as quickly as possible? Is Highways England reviewing again any short-term management techniques such as contraflow, with more notice for people to prepare, so that safety concerns can be addressed? Have the Department and Highways England talked to ferry companies about making the best use of their capacity in the event of lengthy episodes of congestion?

It is clear that the GPS problem that the hon. Member for South Thanet has rightly raised today exists not only in his area but throughout the country. It is an important issue that ties in closely with fundamental questions about the Government’s wider policies on HGVs and traffic management. They have serious questions to answer about technology and about how they can get hold of the problem. How can they expect existing laws and rules to be enforced if local authorities and the police do not have the necessary resources? How proactively will they promote the partnership working between local authorities, the police and the private sector that all hon. Members know is vital, particularly when we know that even on the issue of major incident contingency plans, Highways England has not yet reached agreement with more than half of the local authorities involved? There are serious questions to answer about the specific factors of congestion in the south-east that I have mentioned today, but there are wider issues as well, and I hope that the Minister will clarify some of them. Doing nothing is clearly not an option.

3.27 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): It is as always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) about what has shocked many of us in the transport world today. I happened to be giving a speech to a delegation from the Chinese airport authorities as the news came through, and it focused us once again on the issue of security. We are all vulnerable, across the country, and I pride myself on the work that our police forces, special forces and citizens do in keeping us safe. I know our thoughts and prayers are with those affected today.

My goodness, Sir Alan; we might have thought this would be a very dry debate, going by the title, but we have heard all sorts of things. We have heard an expert description of the GPS service, for which I am grateful. We have learned that the original barbican is actually in Sandwich. We have heard about the village of Clare—I feel a visit coming on; Claire for Clare strikes me as very exciting. We have heard about Godric’s Hollow and about TomTom Truckers, which sounds to some of us like a rather unsavoury form of specialty video, but there we are. It has been an interesting and informative debate, and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) for doing his research and bringing in so many interesting points.

The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), showed up well briefed as always. I appreciated his comments about looking at maps. The shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, knows the subject of the debate inside out, but I was the Minister responsible for road

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freight in the previous Parliament, so I have some knowledge of the sector. Indeed, I was very proud of the work that we did in trying to reduce some of the burden of red tape on an industry that is, as he said, absolutely vital to the smooth running of the economy. It is a logistics sector in which we lead the world in many ways. As my hon. Friends will know, these are often small businesses with slim margins, and anything we can do to make them run more effectively is important.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet pointed out, satellite navigation is becoming a ubiquity in our transport journeys. It is a defining innovation; we are all very reliant upon it. It allows people to move around much more easily and much more effectively. Indeed, according to the AA, drivers using sat-nav travel 16% fewer miles and spend 18% less time at the wheel than drivers without such systems.

I, on the other hand, have a sneaking sympathy for what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun talked about. I like to get out my maps, plot the cross-country journeys and actually work out which way is north. That is not just because I was a geography student at university. Britain led the world in map making and mapping different continents, and it is a skill that we must not lose. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) pointed out, with technological innovations such as driverless vehicles and HGV platooning, there is a chance that the whole system will become dependent on the accuracy of the information being put into such systems and that makes the issue that we are debating even more important.

Although we directly associate satellite navigation with in-vehicle driving guidance, of course there are enormous applications in terms of aviation, fleet management and logistics. Indeed, on the railway, the use of GPS technology, both for managing train movements and for providing more information to customers, is an area of extraordinary innovation.

I turn now to some of the questions around sat-navs, HGVs and what the Government have been thinking and doing. It is in no one’s interest for HGV drivers to make the wrong decision or to rely on inaccurate information. We heard tellingly and powerfully this afternoon what happens when things go wrong: tight corners; historic houses; and congestion. We have all seen the jack-knifed lorry that tried to get through the tight road bridge. Indeed, in my own constituency, we had an almost tragic incident when a large lorry tried to get across a bridge and knocked a piece of masonry on to the mainline track between London and the west country. It was only because of a lot of very quick thinking on behalf of the train crew that an accident was avoided.

Consequently, we have been very assiduous in this area, particularly in linking freight associations, local authorities and sat-nav companies to ensure that responsible HGV drivers are aware of the issue and have the latest information available to them. Indeed, properly equipped lorry drivers now have the tools to avoid low bridges and narrow lanes, and of course that saves them fuel, time and money. No lorry driver wants to be sitting there blocking a village street; that is not a pleasant experience for anyone. Therefore, as we have heard, there are specialist sat-navs that assist.

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Neither central Government nor individual local authorities have direct powers over the routing of sat-nav devices, but sat-nav companies and users can help to ensure that they have appropriate routes by ensuring that their device maps are up to date. I confess that my hybrid vehicle had an in-dashboard sat-nav and I do not think that I ever once updated the maps. I hold my hand up in shame now as I say that. That was, of course, before my ministerial career and making that admission might actually be the end of it. There is an element of personal responsibility and indeed corporate responsibility to make sure that the maps are up to date.

Of course, the routing guidance is only ever advisory. Motorists, including HGV drivers, are responsible for determining the best route for their journey and for determining whether there are appropriate road conditions, even if a route is signposted as being appropriate and open. Drivers are responsible, of course, for ensuring that they follow routes that are legal—that they do not breach height or weight limits, which are set and enforced by local highway authorities and the police.

I have some sympathy—again, based on the experience of my own constituency—about the ping-pong there can be between a local authority and the highways agency as to who is responsible for signage on a particular road and the consequences of re-signing a particular road, which may push congestion over the border into another constituency or on to other roads that are less suitable, so it is not a trivial exercise to get the signage right. Clearly, however, when it is done, it can work.

What we must not ignore is the ability of GPS data to provide such an enormous level of innovation, both in transport and logistics, and in society in general. On trying to mandate specific technologies, such as commercial sat-navs or other route guidance systems, that is difficult. In my view, the heavy hand of Government mandating anything in the technological space tends to act as a drag on innovation, and by the time we have tried to solve one problem the world has moved on and we are all using entirely different systems or devices. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet referred to other competing global systems that may well be operational within the next few years and it would be a difficult process then to start that conversation with those specific road users.

The Government still believe that the private sector remains best placed to develop new products and services, and the market—sensibly regulated—should determine whether those succeed. However, I also want to pay tribute to organisations such as the Freight Transport Association, because there are very responsible industry bodies out there that work with Government and local authorities and that are absolutely committed to making sure that their members are using the most appropriate systems. It is important that we continue to improve those communications and that co-operation to ensure that everyone is using the right technology and equipment.

There is an Act—the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions Act 2002—that equips highway authorities to apply warnings and restrictions to the parts of the local network that they manage where they feel it is appropriate for HGVs to avoid using inappropriate routes. As I have mentioned, that can be a complicated exercise, but it is important. One of the things that the last Government were proud of doing was making it easier for local communities to do things such as applying

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particular speed limits and putting up signage to give communities the ability to manage their road conditions more appropriately.

There is more work happening. The Government are taking direct action now to improve the quality and sharing of transport data; £3 million has been dedicated to create a digital road map that will enable better data sharing between local authorities and service providers. The map is being developed by the Ordnance Survey and it will be launched later this year. It will include information such as road widths, traffic calming measures, and height and weight restrictions, which could then be linked to other public sector data sets, such as planned road works and cycle paths.

Unlike some of the Ordnance Survey data in the past, I believe that this will be open data, so it can be taken up by the various providers of information to the mapping companies, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet pointed out. It is a really important step forward to take Ordnance Survey data, which is of very high quality, and to put it on to the existing digital maps, which in some cases are not of particularly high quality or not particularly detailed about local conditions. I think that this has big potential to improve the quality and accuracy of the routing advice offered by sat-navs, as well as to cut bureaucracy.

James Cartlidge: Obviously, I agree with the Minister about not wanting to regulate if we do not need to, and I am aware of the point about signs. However, my experience is that signs often do not work with HGVs. If, as the years progress, we continue to have these problems, if the signage is not stopping them and if we have these villages and areas that are being damaged by HGVs that, if you like, are abusing routes because of sat-nav, do the Government have any power to intervene with sat-nav companies to try to ensure that they can guide lorries on to the correct routes?

Claire Perry: I do not believe that we have the statutory power to do so currently. Again, this is one of those slightly concerning paths down which to go, but I can certainly look to see whether anything has ever been proposed for the statute book on that basis. We talk about technology, but it is not in anyone’s interests, including those of a fleet manager, to have an HGV trying to force itself down a road. It will be entirely obvious if an HGV is trying to do that long before the problem arises and any responsible fleet manager would then communicate with that driver and say, “Where do you think you’re going? This is absolutely not appropriate.” Again, I think that we need to use the technology as the solution to some of these issues, while recognising the problems related to the technology.

Richard Burden: The Minister is right that there is no easy or off-the-shelf solution to this problem, but it seems to me that the hon. Member for South Suffolk made an important point that is worth considering. While it may not be appropriate to make the use of satellite navigation systems mandatory inside HGVs, if HGVs have a system in operation, should they not be required to have one that is fit for purpose, so that this becomes a compliance issue to do with having the right kind of system, rather than making it mandatory to have a system in the first place?

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Claire Perry: The hon. Gentleman’s points are often very sensible but, in my mind, they can also often lead to a sort of slightly dystopian world of lots of checks and balances, with organisations set up to do in-cab checks, and that is entirely what we do not want to deliver. What we want is an industry that believes in being responsible and has the tools to do so.

The point my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet made about having a little lorry symbol come up, in the same way as a car, or in my case a bicycle, symbol comes up is brilliant. The new technology—the open mapping system—will enable that. What I have instructed my officials to do—rather cheekily, as they no longer work directly for me—is to ensure that the Freight Transport Association and other bodies are given every opportunity to see the mapping process, consider how they might use it and exercise their powers to make recommendations—as has been mentioned, they have a recommended list of sat-navs. I would like them to be involved and, indeed, that offer applies cross-party to any hon. Member here—it is open to anyone who wants to see the information and be involved. This is a really important step forward in solving many of the problems about which we are all concerned.

It does not stop there. The road investment strategy sets out, finally, a long-term investment strategy for roads. That is so important. It includes a £150 million ring-fenced innovation fund that enables Highways England to develop technologies, including sat-nav, and approaches for a smoother, smarter and more sustainable road network. There is an element of driverless and co-operative vehicle technologies, and of improving the information and data that help drivers to plan their journeys.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield made a fair point about what happens when roads are closed. I think that we were all surprised by what happened. With my rail hat on I can say that any delays like the ones he mentioned would have led to outrage among rail passengers across the country and demands for compensation. Somehow, we often accept that roads are closed, and there are lessons to be learnt perhaps from other parts of the infrastructure.

A traffic information strategy developed by Highways England was published in January 2016. It sets out how the agency will work more closely with local authorities to integrate journey planning across the network and improve communications. I am aware, of course, that the Office of Rail Regulation now includes an element of road regulation and I would like to ask my officials to check whether the duty to inform—the duty to work with local authorities—is part of the office’s statutory powers.

The Highways England strategy also focuses on further development of the Traffic England website as a trusted source of information for road users in planning their journeys, and on sharing data from the National Traffic Operations Centre so that there is real-time information.

In conclusion, this debate is fascinatingly important and relevant to us all, in all our constituencies no matter where they are. I hope that some of my points have reassured my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet that the Government are absolutely committed to working more closely with the private sector and that there is real money backing that commitment. I invite all hon.

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Members to review the £3 million digital road map when it is perhaps in beta format, to see how we could encourage road haulage associations in our constituencies to take advantage of the new technology.

Alan Brown: I know that it might have seemed a tangential point, but I asked about the skills gap in the HGV industry and about Government support for filling it.

Claire Perry: I am delighted to respond to that. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We had an influx of HGV drivers from other parts of the world and many of them returned there when the economy turned down. It has, therefore, been a challenge to recruit and retain drivers. There is ongoing work into what could be done to make the cost of training more acceptable, for example. As the only lady in the room who represents a constituency, may I say that women do not want to be long-distance drivers partly because some of the rest facilities are absolutely atrocious? I have encouraged many HGV companies to realise—indeed the responsible ones do—that there is an enormous talent pool of people out there, for whom long-distance driving could be an appropriate career but who will not do it if they have to relieve themselves behind a bush at a rest stop. Raising the terms and conditions and working practices of many parts of the industry could attract non-traditional drivers to what is an important and growing part of the British economy.

Sir Alan Meale (in the Chair): Mr Mackinlay, Andy Warhol said some years ago that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, and you have about that amount of time—or you may wish to respond briefly.

3.44 pm

Craig Mackinlay: I thank you, Sir Alan, for your excellent chairmanship. It would have been nice to have a few more Members with us, but there is activity elsewhere. It would be stretching it to think that I will speak for a further 15 minutes—I will not delay Members for that long—but I will make some comments about the excellent contributions made.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) laid out very well the damage to the fabric of our great nation that we face from many HGVs being inappropriately used. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) added a road safety dimension to the debate. Road safety is key, particularly at peak times when children are out of school. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) mentioned that, even though we do substantial road improvements or have restrictions in order to do engineered solutions, those are overcome by the

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automaton-like, slavish adherence to the voice that comes out of the machine—I think we are all prone to that.

I am grateful that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) took part in the debate. I am not sure whether the shortage of drivers in the UK is relevant to the core of the debate, but we do have a shortage of available drivers as the HGV industry in this country is growing at all times and the volume of HGV traffic is only increasing. That gets to the heart of why the problem we face with sat-nav use is so relevant. I very much thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who brought to the debate a high level of knowledge about various aspects of the road industry.

Turning to my hon. Friend the Minister, I was very encouraged that there was an area I did not know about. I go away with some additional technical knowledge, that Ordnance Survey is spending £3 million on open source mapping, which could be vital to further improving the quality of data available to mapping companies. Underneath all of the systems, no matter whether they are nomadic or on personal digital assistants or smartphones, is the fundamental map data.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen mentioned the potential for driverless cars, which are much in the news. I would not like to think about how driverless HGVs in Sandwich might get on—we will come to that, perhaps, in 10 years’ time. I think that we stand here today in awe of some of the technology that we do not really understand but regularly use, and on the concept of driverless cars, we can foresee the potential for companies going across every road, accumulating data such as widths and heights, and then feeding it back almost immediately into a database system and updating maps almost in real time.

I understand the concerns about more overbearing legislation. I am not for that; markets can decide things effectively and rather more rapidly that Governments. But the plea, I think, from the Chamber this afternoon to the manufacturers of the nomadic devices and the software is that they please put on that little lorry symbol. I realise that that would be a commercial decision, because the same machine for HGV use is often sold for three times the price, but it would solve, at a stroke, many of the problems. We understand that no HGV driver wants to be caught down that small road or to be hitting that bridge or historic building—that is a given—and that additional button could relieve many of the problems.

I thank hon. Members for taking part in the debate, and I thank you, Sir Alan, for your forbearance.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered GPS satellite navigation and heavy goods vehicles.

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Daesh: Persecution of Christians

[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

4 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered persecution of Christians and other religious minorities under Daesh.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. May I clarify the subject of the debate? The wording I applied for was “Genocide under Daesh of Christians and other religious minorities”. It is regrettable that, without any discussion with me, the motion was changed, although I understand it was not changed by the Speaker’s office. I shall say no more about the motion, except to clarify that the violence of ISIL, or Daesh, as we now call it, rages against a number of minority religious groups in addition to Christians, including the Yazidis and minority Muslim groups. Space prohibited me from referring to them by name in the motion.

The 1948 UN convention on genocide makes it clear that genocide is the systematic killing or serious harming of people because they are part of a recognisable group. The specific legal meaning of genocide is

“acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

The convention specifies certain actions that can contribute to genocide, such as killing, forcible transfer, preventing births and causing serious bodily or mental harm.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall for consideration. It is a massive subject that warrants a 90-minute debate, and I am disappointed that it was not allocated one. Nevertheless, we have half an hour. I know that the hon. Lady, along with others present, shares my concern that Christians are given the ultimatum: “convert or die”. It is a choice between continuing to have religious beliefs and leaving the country or dying. Genocide is the only word we can use for that.

Fiona Bruce: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point and is quite right. As I stand here today, religious minorities are suffering horrendous atrocities at the hands of this murderous cult in Syria, Iraq and the other countries of the middle east where Daesh has a strong presence. The number of Christians in Iraq has reduced from 1.4 million to just over a quarter of a million in just a few years. The Bishop of Aleppo said this week that two thirds of Syrian Christians have been either killed or driven away from his country.

Acts committed by ISIS against Christians include the assassination of church leaders, mass murders, torture, kidnapping for ransom, sexual enslavement, systematic rape, forced conversions and the destruction of churches. We know about the mass graves of the Yazidis, and about crucifixions, forced marriages and the kidnapping of women and girls, some of them as young as eight, many of them raped mercilessly, month after month, until their bodies are in tatters. We know about children being beheaded in front of their families for refusing to convert.

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Jim Shannon: The hon. Lady is being very gracious in giving way. Before the debate, I asked her if I could intervene to say that the Yazidis in particular have been reduced from 500,000 to 200,000 in Iraq. Nobody in the west put out their hand to help or assist, as they should have. The Yazidis have been in the Kurdish camps along the borders of Syria, Iraq and Turkey. They are a small group who have been persecuted, pursued and discriminated against, and their ethnic and religious freedoms have been abused. Perhaps the Minister could respond to that point as well.

Fiona Bruce: Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a strong point.

We are sometimes at risk of being desensitised by the horrors under Daesh. They are so extreme that their evil seems almost fictional. But for those who are suffering—people who lived lives like us just a short time ago—they are very real.

Surely one thing is becoming increasingly clear. Bearing in mind the definition of genocide to which I referred a moment ago, can anyone now seriously doubt that Daesh’s actions are genocidal? Nor, surely, can anyone seriously doubt that Daesh is trying to destroy minorities such as the Yazidis, in the words of the convention,

“in whole or in part”.

As Bishop Angaelos, a general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, has said:

“How can we not declare Genocide if Christians are suffering the same fate, at the same time, under the same conditions, at the hands of the same perpetrators?”

The entire population of Christians in the city of Mosul in Iraq, all 60,000 of them, have been effectively eradicated by Daesh—gone, fled or dead.

Daesh’s intentions in perpetrating its violence are a matter of record, as reports have made clear repeatedly. It regularly makes public statements of a genocidal nature, such as the following message, which was broadcast on its Al-Bayan radio station:

“We say to the defenders of the cross, that future attacks are going to be harsher and worse...The Islamic State soldiers will inflict harm on you with the grace of Allah. The future is just around the corner.”

As US Secretary of State said just last week, after a unanimous vote by the House of Representatives to declare a genocide by 393 votes to none:

“Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions—in what it says, what it believes, and what it does…The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia.”

I submit that the legal criteria for genocide have been amply satisfied. Not only have the US Government now said so, but so have the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Pope, the US Congress, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and 75 Members of both Houses of Parliament when we wrote to the Prime Minister, including the former chief of staff and former head of MI5. A group of leading QC peers also recently wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue. All agree that the crimes of Daesh are genocide.

Why is it so important that we, as Members of Parliament, also collectively define these crimes as genocide? Because doing so would be more than mere verbiage—more than mere words. It would bring into play a whole series of mechanisms that can strengthen the response of the

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international community to challenge this evil force. The convention on genocide is clear that such a declaration brings with it obligations to prevent, protect and punish. I suggest that our making such a declaration would challenge the 147 countries that are party to the convention to step up and act on their obligations to help to prevent further atrocities, to protect those who are suffering, and to work towards punishing the perpetrators.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again. She has outlined clearly the need for us to have this debate. It is an opportunity for us to speak out on behalf of our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the whole world who have been persecuted because of their beliefs. We have the chance to be a voice for the voiceless. I congratulate the hon. Lady again on bringing this debate to Westminster Hall for our consideration.

Fiona Bruce: It is right that we should be a voice for the voiceless.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Before I heard the start of her speech, I did not know the original wording of her motion. May I press her to submit the motion again and, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, request more time for the debate and possibly a vote in the Chamber? I, too, was a signatory to a letter to the Prime Minister on this subject, and I think there are many more parliamentarians who would welcome the opportunity to debate it at length and to vote on it.

Fiona Bruce: My hon. Friend pre-empts me. He is absolutely right. I suggest that such a motion should be worded in the following way: “That this House believe that religious minorities in the middle east are suffering genocide.” Crucially, that would mean that those who have participated in such vile crimes would know that they face justice and the full weight of genocide law when they are tried before the International Criminal Court. Must the relevant conflicts end before we work to bring to justice those who are responsible for these terrible atrocities? How long will that be? How much of the evidence will have disappeared? How many of the witnesses will have gone?

The international community’s record is not strong on this issue. Our incumbent Foreign Secretary and the previous Foreign Secretary have both lamented on the record the international community’s response to previous genocidal suffering. In 2015, the Foreign Secretary said that

“the memory of what happened in Srebrenica leaves the international community with obligations that extend well beyond the region…It demands that we all try to understand why those who placed their hope in the international community on the eve of genocide found it dashed.”

On the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, William Hague, then Foreign Secretary, said:

“The truth is that our ability to prevent conflict is still hampered by a gap between the commitments states have made and the reality of their actions.”

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. She talked about waiting until the end of the conflict. On 17 December 1942, the then Foreign Secretary made clear in the House what Britain’s attitude would be at the end of hostilities to

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those who had committed the massacre of the Jews in Europe. Does my hon. Friend think that a similar statement today of what the international community’s attitude will be at the conclusion of hostilities to those who are committing genocide in the middle east would be welcome?

Fiona Bruce: Indeed I do.

We must learn the lessons of the past. It is right that the international community should shoulder a burden of guilt for failing the victims in Rwanda. Those of us who have been to Rwanda a number of times know how many people still suffer as a result of our failure to act promptly then. Let us act now and be bold enough to call this genocide what it is. Let us avoid the regret that so many now feel about that past failure and not acting more promptly to go to the aid of those who suffered so severely in Rwanda in the early 1990s.

What has been our response to the middle eastern genocide perpetrated by Daesh to date? In the time I have left, I want to talk about the Government’s response, as I understand it—the Minister may correct me. I believe that the Government say that they have a long-standing policy that any judgments on whether genocide has occurred are a matter for the international judicial system. Their approach appears to be to refrain from expressing an opinion on whether genocide has occurred until the international judicial system makes such a declaration. However, why can Parliament not make a declaration?

I respectfully suggest to the Minister that there are perhaps four reasons—probably more—why the Government should reconsider their approach. First, I find it remarkable that the UK is willing to declare itself not competent to judge whether the conditions for genocide, which I have described, have been met, particularly in a case as clear as this. If the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the US Government and the European Parliament, none of which are judicial bodies, can declare a genocide, why cannot we?

Secondly, as I understand it, the Government have previously been willing to express their view on genocides that neither the UN nor the International Criminal Court have ruled upon, such as the case of Cambodia. Thirdly, the Government’s approach is frustratingly circular. We are told that nothing can be done until the ICC or the UN declares genocide, but historically neither have been willing to do so without international pressure. This is potentially a recipe for doing nothing. I know that the Minister is an extremely genuine person and is deeply concerned about matters of justice of this nature, but is it acceptable for this country to effectively risk doing nothing on this particular issue of declaring genocide—I am sure that is not true elsewhere—when we sincerely wish to pursue an ethical foreign policy?

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, we have a moral duty to speak out and do what we can for the religious minorities that, even now, are being horribly persecuted at the brutal hands of Daesh. Staying silent in the face of such evil is not an option.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. What she says about silence is important. The way that Christians, Yazidis and other minorities are being targeted in the areas controlled by Daesh is appalling. I hear a lot

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about it from my constituents, but I do not hear about it more widely than that. Encouraging further discussions in this House would help to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians and other minorities.

Fiona Bruce: I thank the hon. Lady for that comment. The issue certainly needs much closer attention in this place and more broadly in our country. The dignity of the people who are suffering so horribly cries out for it.

I want to digress for a moment, to refer to an announcement that was made in the House last Wednesday. The Minister may be able to assist us by clarifying it. Many Members were left with the impression that only states can commit genocide. I have the greatest respect for the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne), and I have no doubt that he gave that response with total sincerity, but will the Minister responding to today’s debate clarify the advice that he was given? As I understand it—I stand to be corrected—all that is needed for a non-state party to be found guilty of genocide is for the UN Security Council to confer jurisdiction on the ICC, and for the ICC to agree that a genocide is taking place. That cannot happen without lobbying from our Government, so we should press the UN Security Council to take action accordingly.

An amendment to the Immigration Bill was introduced yesterday in another place. If passed, it would have presumed that victims of genocide meet certain conditions for asylum in the UK, and it would have put that determination in the hands of a High Court judge. I watched that debate, after which the amendment was narrowly defeated late last night. Although some of the contributors had reservations about its wording, which I believe is why they felt they could not support it, the support for it was much wider than the vote reflected on the principle that we need to call these atrocities what they are: genocide.

I am focusing on that narrow point today. I seek support for a motion to be introduced in the terms that I referred to—“That this House believe that religious minorities in the middle east are suffering genocide.” That would enable us to refer the matter to the UN, so that the International Criminal Court could proceed with examining what is happening in the middle east.

In the debate in the other place last night, the Minister responding to the debate proposed that

“the appropriate way forward would be to consider a Motion of this House, directed to Her Majesty’s Government as to how they should address or not address the issues that pertain here with regard to whether there has been genocide.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 March 2016; Vol. 769, c. 2177.]

If my understanding that such a motion could be brought before the House is correct, will the Minister consider whether it would be appropriate for the Government to bring it forward? As he knows, such a motion introduced by a Back Bencher would have little chance of being considered by the House in the immediate future. Will the Minister consider whether the Government should introduce such a motion and arrange for a vote on this issue? If I understood the Minister in the other place correctly, the Government proposed that amicable solution. May I now press for it to be made possible?

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Will the Minister confirm that we should be pushing for international recognition of, and action against, these unspeakable crimes, and for them to be declared as genocide? We can and should express an opinion, so that we can lead the charge at the international level and bring those who are committing such atrocious evils to justice.

4.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Edward. Before I respond to this important debate, may I take a minute to bring the House up to date with events in Brussels today?

An appalling and savage terrorist attack took place earlier today. The Prime Minister has spoken to the Prime Minister of Belgium to give our sympathies and condolences to the Belgian people. We stand with them at this very difficult time. We are in close contact with the authorities in Brussels, and embassy staff are assisting one injured Briton. We are ready to support any further British nationals who may have been affected. We are aware of reports that Daesh has claimed responsibility. Obviously, along with the international community, we are investigating such reports, but at the moment we cannot confirm anything. Cobra met this morning, and there will be further meetings tomorrow.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), whose debate I welcome, that 30 minutes does not do justice to this subject. It is not enough time to say what I would like to say—I can already see that I have only nine minutes left, and even complaining about the amount of time available is wasting more time in which I should be getting on to the issues—[Interruption.] I am already being heckled from a sedentary position.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue. I am sorry to hear that the wording of her motion was altered. I am not aware that it had anything to do with us—I do not think we have that privilege, or I am sure that I would change many motions, although not in this case. I congratulate her on securing this important debate. No one can fail to be moved by the harrowing stories of Daesh’s brutality and the way in which Christians, Yazidis and others have been singled out for persecution, and I pay tribute to both Government and Opposition Members who have campaigned so hard to ensure that minority voices are heard in the fight against Daesh.

In the middle east, we are now witnessing systematic and horrific attacks against Christians and others on the basis of their religion, beliefs or ethnicity. Tragically, the very survival of communities that have existed peacefully in the region for centuries is now at risk. Members on both sides of the House are united in our condemnation of Daesh’s inhumane treatment of minorities. It is also right that we condemn Daesh’s equally brutal treatment of the majority Muslim population in Iraq and Syria.

Today, we have heard appalling examples of Daesh’s abuses. The Government want to see accountability for those abuses and have supported efforts to document them. The UK co-sponsored the Human Rights Council resolution mandating the investigation of Daesh abuses, which were also recorded and condemned in the Foreign

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and Commonwealth Office’s 2014 human rights and democracy report. We will do the same in the 2015 report, which is to be published in April. The Government are directly funding training for Syrian activists to document abuses to a standard suitable for criminal prosecution. I pay tribute to those involved in that work for their courage.

Turning to the core of what my hon. Friend has discussed today, I understand the urge for us to declare that there is genocide. As the Prime Minister said in the House yesterday, however, we maintain that genocide should be a matter of legal rather than political opinion, although there is clearly a growing body of evidence that terrible crimes have been committed. It is vital that all of us to continue to expose and condemn Daesh’s atrocities and, above all, do everything in our power to stop them, but we maintain that it is right for any assessment of matters of international law to remain in the hands of the appropriate judicial authorities. I assure the House that the Government are working hard with our international partners to ensure that Daesh is held to account for its crimes and that those who have suffered at its hands receive justice.

To be clear, I associate myself firmly with the comments made by Secretary of State John Kerry that no Government are judge, jury or prosecutor—we are not in a position to make such statements. It is for the international criminal courts to do so. However, we are participating in collecting the data, preserving the documents and providing the evidence that will be needed to take things forward. It is important and of symbolic value that international justice is seen to take place, with a commitment by the international community to see accountability for the most serious crimes of international concern.

The matter is complex, however, and an awful lot of due diligence needs to take place, not only on genocide but on the whole issue of crimes against humanity, as my hon. Friend is aware. She has done extremely well to bring the matter before the House today, and I absolutely encourage a further, wider debate with a vote in the House to continue the process.

Michael Tomlinson: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way—I am conscious of the time. Given his experience of military service in the Balkans and of Rwanda, does he see the importance of debating the subject further, as he has just said? Will he support a debate taking place in Government time, with a vote?

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes his point fully, but it is up to the usual channels to make any decision. I firmly believe that we are not doing justice to the subject; we are only skimming the surface of such an important matter. We have touched on Rwanda, the Balkans and so forth, and, indeed, following Rwanda, the world recognised the duty of care on leaders—again, a legal stipulation—to look after the people under their remit. That failed in Rwanda. I would very much welcome a further debate on the subject, so that the world can hear what this Parliament thinks and the Government’s

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reaction to that, and so that we can pursue and continue the process. I welcome that and hope that today is only a beginning.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): We are at one in this Chamber in our horror of the reports that we have heard. Will the Minister tell us precisely what he expects us to be voting on after a debate in the main Chamber, and what action would be recommended?

Mr Ellwood: That is not for the Government; it is for the Backbench Business Committee to make such a judgment. Any debate would be an indication of the mood or spirit of Parliament, of where we would like to go, and of what we would like the permanent members of the UN Security Council to discuss. It could lead to recommendations for action, perhaps through the international criminal courts or any number of other avenues.

Kevin Foster: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Ellwood: I have two and a half minutes left, so I will give way only briefly.

Kevin Foster: I thank the Minister for giving way. He is being generous, given the time. In 1942, this House made a solemn resolution that those responsible for such crimes should not escape retribution. Would the Government be minded to support such a resolution in this instance?

Mr Ellwood: I will write to hon. Members with details on questions to which I have not replied, but I must conclude.

I have given as much indication as I can of the direction of travel that we would like to go in. I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary has made his comments, and I repeat—I do not want to get myself into any trouble, so I am looking around carefully—that we are not judge or jury here. It is not for the Government to call this, which hon. Members will perhaps recognise as a frustration. It is important that voices are heard to make it clear what the expectations are and where we should be going on what is happening in Iraq and Syria.

To truly defeat Daesh, to eradicate its ideology, and to secure long-term peace and security in the region, we must demonstrate through our words and actions our support for all communities, whether majority or minority, Shi’a or Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds or others. We will continue to do all we can to liberate the people of Iraq and Syria from the persecution and appalling violence that they face from Daesh. We must all continue to expose Daesh for its criminal and fraudulent betrayal of Islam. In the spirit in which my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton introduced the debate, I also hope that we can take important steps towards bringing Daesh to justice on the international stage.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): I am sure the House would want to associate itself with the Minister’s comments about the atrocity in Brussels.

Question put and agreed to.

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Macur Review of Historical Child Abuse

4.29 pm

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Macur Review into historic child abuse.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Sir Edward. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship today. I am sure we are all saddened by the news we are hearing from Brussels.

I will start by putting on record my thanks to the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) for his statement last week. I also congratulate him on his new role in government. I also congratulate the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister on their promotions. I look forward to working constructively with both of them in what I am sure will be an eventful year. I also pay tribute to many colleagues across the House for their work, especially the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who I am delighted to see with us this afternoon. She has campaigned tirelessly for the victims and survivors of child abuse in Wales and beyond.

The publication of the Macur review’s report was long overdue. For the survivors of these abhorrent events, it represented hope: that they would see justice; that their accounts of events would be vindicated; that the nagging doubts and conspiracy theories would be either verified or dispelled; and that the whole would be conducted disinterestedly without fear or favour. Unfortunately, the report, which includes more than 600 redactions, adds virtually nothing to our understanding of how the state failed so many children over so many years in north Wales.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I am sure that, like me, the hon. Lady has already had survivors contact her to say how disappointed they were. The report was their hope that there would be recognition, but all it does is leave unanswered questions still unanswered.

Liz Saville Roberts: I agree. It seems to have been very much a matter of process and documentation, with survivors and victims as a second consideration. I will return to that.

The report culminates in a bland list of eight conclusions, which mainly state that Waterhouse was necessary, agree with the instigation of this inquiry, say that neither is a substitute for criminal proceedings and that the experience of giving evidence is difficult for survivors. The six recommendations include the platitudes that inquiries should be “above reproach”; that evidence should not be lost; that there is no purpose in further inquiries; and about the hazards of hindsight. I will return to recommendation 5 later.

Macur was the third review of its kind after the Jillings panel and the Waterhouse tribunal. We will have to wait a further two and a half years before we learn of the findings of Goddard’s independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in particular criticised the timescale, saying that despite the “drawn out process”, the report reveals “barely anything”. It expressed concern that that might deter victims from coming forward during the ongoing Operation Pallial.

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I turn to redactions: the removal of names and details by which people might be identified. On my count—I may be wrong, although I counted twice—there are 633 redactions in the report. Although many will be duplications, the Secretary of State and the Minister must appreciate that that number is extremely high. The previous Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said in his statement last week that redactions had been “kept to a minimum”. While I, and I am sure many people here, accept that some redactions must be made, particularly given the ongoing court proceedings and the potential for further actions, I put it to the House that to claim that redactions in the report have been kept to a minimum is frankly disingenuous.

I am particularly concerned about the extremely high number of redactions in chapters 7 and 8 on freemasonry and establishment figures respectively. Lady Justice Macur made recommendations in her report to the Secretaries of State on what should be redacted in the published report. She said:

“It is for the Secretaries of State to determine any further redaction of my Report weighing public interest with the caution”.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. One of the few positives to come out of Waterhouse was the setting up of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. Given the strong statement that the commissioner made, does she agree that the Government must be clear about the methodology that arrived at so many redactions?

Liz Saville Roberts: I agree entirely. I will refer to what the Children’s Commissioner for Wales said anon and I hope that the Minister will be in a position to respond to her call as well as those we are making today.

The previous Secretary of State also said that the rationale behind making the redactions, as set out in the letters to the Secretaries of State by the Treasury Solicitor and the director general of propriety and ethics, “explain the reasons…fully”. However, I put it to the Minister that those justifications are weak and bland. I sympathise with the views expressed by victims and by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, as just mentioned, who believe that the UK Government need to be more open about the process by which redactions were made. First, I ask the Minister to tell the House how many redactions were made in addition to those suggested by Lady Macur. Secondly, will he publish further information about why those additional redactions were made and what the process was in coming to a decision on them?

Especially alarming—possibly more so—are the numerous serious cases of missing or destroyed evidence at several different points during the various inquiries. Lady Justice Macur’s report refers to individuals who have implied in written evidence that they hold information about abusers who were not investigated by the police or the tribunal. She states that following an interview with—redacted name—she made a request for materials said by that person to be relevant to the review and stored by a solicitor. She goes on to say that that solicitor had since left the relevant practice and that the files in question were destroyed. She even says that the person at the firm dealing with her request recalled that, before the files were destroyed, the solicitor in question had visited the office and

“may have taken any documents he considered worthy of retention.”

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The report states that the solicitor in question had failed to respond to correspondence from Lady Macur. Does the Minister consider that a satisfactory conclusion to that line of inquiry? Is simply ignoring correspondence until the problem goes away all one needs to do to get away with a crime? Even ignoring the allegation that the solicitor may have removed evidence, is the Minister satisfied that it would be standard practice to destroy recently archived data?

Unfortunately, that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to missing or destroyed evidence. The greatest cause for concern in relation to the process and documentation is of course the fate of the Waterhouse tribunal’s evidence originally handed over to the Welsh Office in 1998. Those documents—it says this in the report—were supposed to be archived securely for 75 years. That did not happen. The evidence received scant respect at the Welsh Office and it was then shuffled over to the Welsh Government.

This is simply a catalogue of data mismanagement: dependency on technology that becomes dated and corrupted; destruction of hardware and tapes; boxes of evidence in disorder; and a reference index that lists 718 boxes while only 398 were initially made available. It remains unclear how many boxes of evidence were finally handed over to Lady Justice Macur, but documents were still coming to light on 1 December last year. It should be noted that the report was presented on 10 December. That methodology does not instil confidence.

The significance of the destroyed computer database cannot be overestimated. That was the record of all documentation. Against that database, if extant, it would have been possible to come to a view as to whether significant evidence was present or missing. Macur states:

“It is impossible to confidently report that I have seen all the documentation that was before the Tribunal.”

We cannot therefore come empirically to an opinion on whether material has been lost, removed or concealed.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I interviewed six young men some years ago in the Cynon Valley. Those boys were taken to north Wales, and that may be true of boys from other parts of south Wales as well. This is talked about as the north Wales abuse inquiry, but it is sometimes forgotten that the children came from all over Wales. Those boys’ reports were harrowing, as Members can imagine. It is an absolute disgrace that there are so many missing documents; I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. Where have they gone? Who is responsible? Lots of the evidence given to the Jillings report, which preceded the Waterhouse inquiry, has also gone missing. Where is it? Who did that, and what were they hiding?

Liz Saville Roberts: I agree. There is a history, as the right hon. Lady mentioned, of a loss of evidence associated with child abuse. I refer also to the Geoffrey Dickens dossier. I ask the Minister to consider whether victims and survivors of abuse in Wales—not only north Wales, of course—can, in all honesty, be satisfied with the findings of this report.

Now that the Macur review has been published, we are left with the overall lasting impression that documentation and process have been more important than securing justice for the victims and survivors of the

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abuse that was perpetrated, which should have been the overarching responsibility and purpose of the review. Symptomatic of that concern for documentation and process rather than for the victims and survivors of abuse was the failure to speak to them individually. The review held a public session in Wrexham in June 2013. The review’s website states that, on that day, Lady Justice Macur

“met privately with anyone who asked to do so”

and that the review

“met with numerous individuals with relevant information.”

However, I have spoken with one of the survivors, Keith Gregory, who is a point of contact for other victims and survivors of abuse, and he has informed me that arrangements for interviews were forgotten by the review.

Adding to the undermining of the victims and survivors of abuse are the definitions of “unreliable witnesses” and “multiple hearsay”. Those unfortunate terms were used at the time by people working within the Wales Office to dismiss those who had approached them to demand that attention be focused on investigating abuse that later turned out to be true and to be widespread. The terms are still in use today and are very potent.

It is unfortunate that, due to misguided and wild accusations that emanated from multiple investigations into prominent public figures, sympathy for the survivors and victims of historical child abuse has swung away from them to incorrectly accused individuals. Obviously, the cases of figures such as Lord Edwin Bramall and Harvey Proctor—this, of course, is relevant to news we have heard in recent days—have demonstrated the need to proceed with care and caution when investigations are carried out. However, the danger is that the popular and media perception focuses on sympathy for wronged figures at the expense of genuine victims and survivors. The sensationalist and prurient nature of the subject matter makes a good tabloid story, but surely society should make every effort to respect the suffering of all innocents caught up in both perpetration and accusation.

Ultimately, after reading the Macur review, I am left with the impression that many points still need to be explained and explored under the public gaze. I am particularly concerned about recommendation 5, which I do not interpret in the same way as the Secretary of State for Wales did in his statement last week. He referred to one alleged incident of criminal charges, but Lady Justice Macur’s recommendation seems far more wide-reaching. It concerns me that the Secretary of State appears to have been at pains to restrict the scope of recommendation 5, and I seek a further explanation of what steps will be taken.

The role of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales should be strengthened, which she mentioned in an interview on “Sunday Politics Wales” at the weekend. The commissioner, Sally Holland, called for greater powers, noting that the commissioner’s powers in relation to complaints, advocacy and whistleblowing should be extended to include any area that involves the abuse of children. Might I suggest the Government examine that point and perhaps, if appropriate, include it when they inevitably strengthen and revise the initial draft of the Wales Bill? Will the UK Government work with the Welsh Government to ensure that the Children’s Commissioner has the full range of powers she believes she needs to ensure the full and adequate protection of children?

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The Children’s Commissioner also called for the Government to publish or explain information regarding who identified what number of redactions and in which chapter; that is an important point. We are aware that an unredacted copy of the review has been forwarded to the Goddard inquiry, but that will not report until the end of 2018 and will therefore be another long process for the survivors, who have waited for many years already. Victims and survivors need to know what the methodology and process for deciding upon redactions were; the Government owe them that. I note that the only politicians to have had sight of the unredacted version so far all belong to the Government. That does not seem right. It is also clear that there needs to be a strengthened status for evidence from child abuse inquiries, including its preservation, which is a wider point for any Government inquiry.

There undoubtedly needs to be a commitment to ensure that children’s voices are heard in the criminal justice system, in health and social care and in any other sector that involves the care of children and contains the potential for abuse. Rather than simply a platitude that seeks to soothe and reassure in the face of public anger and is then forgotten as time rolls on, we need to change the way in which children’s voices are heard during such processes, in concrete and administrative terms.

Mark Tami: The hon. Lady makes an important point about children’s voices being heard. In many of these cases, because the children were in a home, they were not considered to have any value, and that is why they were treated in the way they were. That, in some ways, is the worst aspect of this whole miserable, dreadful business.

Liz Saville Roberts: One thing that has saddened me is perceiving how vulnerable these children were, which made them vulnerable to abuse in the first place, and how that abuse in turn has affected them for the rest of their lives and in part condemns them to being unreliable witnesses. We have not served them well; there is no denying that.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I congratulate my hon. Friend on the speech she is making. In terms of process, is she surprised, as I am, at the paucity of reference to the linguistic context in which this happened in Wales—specifically in north Wales and north-west Wales, where a percentage of the children would be Welsh-speaking? I detect very few references to that in either the Macur report or, in fact, the Waterhouse report, which I read many years ago.

Liz Saville Roberts: Indeed. We are talking about children’s voices, and one aspect of that is whether people are able to use their first language, in which they are most confident and express their emotions most fluently.

Finally, one critical lesson to be learned—I again echo the Children’s Commissioner for Wales—is that reviews from now on must be centred on the victims and the survivors. They should have the opportunity to advise on both the remit and process of an inquiry and should be properly supported at all stages. They, of course, are the people who live with this experience for their whole lives, and it has been a terrible experience. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

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4.48 pm

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I am pleased to see you in the chair, Sir Edward. May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his appointment? This is not the easiest of debates with which to start. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on her studied and sensible remarks.

This is a really difficult issue for Wrexham. It has cast a cloud over the years that I have been in Parliament, which are many now. The Waterhouse report was published in the year before I became a Member of Parliament and refers to events that occurred very often in Wrexham in the 1980s and 1990s, when I lived and worked in the area. There were great hopes for the Macur review. On Thursday, when the Secretary of State for Wales made a statement, I said that I was astonished. I am afraid that having considered the review to the extent I have been able to thus far, I do not in any way resile from my statement; in fact, I would intensify it.

The reaction within Wrexham has been one of huge disappointment and distress. The hon. Lady referred to Keith Gregory, who is my constituent and a local Plaid Cymru councillor in Wrexham, and to whom I spoke at the weekend. There is intense disappointment, but it simply confirms the view of many survivors about the political class, the political system and the whole world in which many of my constituents see politicians as operating. I am afraid that the report, with the redactions that have been referred to, will intensify the disillusion that the survivors of these incidents feel about the political and judicial system in north Wales.

A lot of issues will arise from the report, and I tell the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and Ministers at the Ministry of Justice that I will be pursuing many of those questions through parliamentary questions and further debate. We need a substantial debate—a full day’s debate—on this report, which is of national importance, in order to address the issues in it, once we have had the opportunity to try to read it. I congratulate the hon. Lady on reading the report: I have had real difficulty doing so because of the number of redactions in it. Many of the most important and controversial aspects of the report are very difficult to extract from the document we have.

The issue of redaction is very important. I was surprised last Thursday that the then Secretary of State for Wales made the statement, because I had expected the Lord Chancellor to make it. I have raised questions in connection with the publication of this report that have always been answered by the Ministry of Justice, which I therefore expected to be dealing with the matter. Although the report was jointly commissioned by the Wales Office and the Ministry of Justice, it is very important that Justice Ministers—I mean no disrespect to the Wales Office—should answer, because there are very technical and difficult legal questions relating to it.

It is clear that this report followed correspondence that took place between the Lord Chancellor and Lady Macur who was conducting an investigation and doing an independent report. The important issue of redaction was at the heart of that correspondence. The review itself makes it clear in paragraph 8.4 that

“the redaction of this report is a matter for the commissioning departments.”

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It is very important that everyone out there understands that the redactions in the report were made by the Government, not by the judge. The only people who have seen the full report and have made the redactions are the Government.

However, that was not enough for the Lord Chancellor. Information that is given to us by Lady Justice Macur in paragraph 1.44 of the report tells us that Her Majesty’s Procurator General and Treasury Solicitor, Jonathan Jones, asked for a meeting with her to discuss the

“inclusion of names of individuals subject to unsubstantiated allegations.”

In the review, Lady Justice Macur says that she refused to have such a meeting.

That was not the end of the matter as far as the Ministry of Justice was concerned. I should make it clear that I have written to the Lord Chancellor to give him notice that I will be referring to this report and to him as an individual in this debate, because after the refusal to meet the Treasury Solicitor, the Lord Chancellor—effectively Lady Macur’s boss—wrote a letter to her. She is the head of an independent judicial inquiry investigating an alleged cover-up. He asked her to withhold the names of individuals who were the subject of allegations from the draft review presented to other Government Departments—so the Lord Chancellor asked her to take the names out of the draft report that was being sent, within the Government, to other Departments. I do not regard that as appropriate. This was an independent judicial inquiry and the matter was one for the judge.

I would have liked to question the Lord Chancellor on those points but, unfortunately, he did not present the report to Parliament, so I have not had the opportunity to do so: I will pursue those matters. In any event, the Government have redacted, as we have heard, huge swathes of the Macur review, removing in particular the names of individuals who have been the subject of speculation and who have national recognition. For example, the name Peter Morrison has been redacted from the report, but puzzlingly, other names—Greville Janner, Lord Gareth Williams—have not.

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): If I may correct the hon. Gentleman, Peter Morrison’s name does appear in the body of the report. It is important that the hon. Gentleman clarifies that, because it is not redacted.

Ian C. Lucas: It appears in one part of the report, but it is also redacted in other parts of it. His name appears in the introduction, I believe, but in the part that relates to establishment figures, his name is redacted.

Mr David Jones: The point I was seeking to make is that his name is not wholly redacted, and since the hon. Gentleman is making a speech that covers very important matters, it is necessary to clarify that point.

Ian C. Lucas: I am grateful for that clarification, but in the chapter that relates to establishment figures, the two names that I referred to are not redacted, whereas Peter Morrison’s name is. It is very difficult to deduce a line of principle to see why someone made that decision. I think we need to have that information, and I think it

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is very important and very appropriate that the Children’s Commissioner for Wales has written to the Secretary of State for Wales, saying that

“more can be done to communicate many of the omissions to be found in the report, and seek a greater level of transparency to be afforded to victims. As such, I call on the UK Government to issue a statement explaining the methodology used for redacting the publically available Macur Review Report, giving a full rationale for the changes made. Without an understanding of the approach employed by the Government’s lawyers, many will continue to question whether there has been protection of individuals because of their position in society, rather than because there are ongoing criminal investigations, or if there is no evidence against them.”

Some of the people whose names have been redacted are dead, so there will not be any continuing criminal investigations as far as they are concerned, and it is very difficult to understand why these redactions have been made and what element of principle is involved. We need that information because we have to try to persuade our constituents that our political system is not rotten and that it does afford them some element of protection.

I am also very concerned about the circumstances in which the review was set up. There is a very interesting section starting in paragraph 1.33 of the review concerning a Wales Office note, and the involvement of the Cabinet Secretary in the compilation of a note that involved the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), who is here today. It seems from the report that issues that are directly relevant to the establishment of the Macur review have been left hanging in the air and that a Cabinet note, which is referred to in paragraph 1.40, has not been disclosed. That is one of many documents that are available and should be published. A huge number of questions arise from the report and I am afraid its contents do nothing to resolve the disillusion of my constituents or the many survivors who suffered at the hands of criminals in north Wales in the 1980s and 1990s.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a valuable contribution to the debate. Does he think that handing an unredacted copy to the Goddard inquiry will affect the delay in anyone having any chance of finding out what the redactions are? The Goddard inquiry is very optimistically expected to report in two years, but the scale of the inquiry is so enormous that most people think it will take a decade. Is it right that the abuse of those young people should continue for at least another 10 years?

Ian C. Lucas: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The report took over three years and I would be astonished—to use that phrase again—if the Goddard review reported within that timeframe. That is why it is incumbent on us to ask these questions. It is unacceptable that only members of the Government see the unredacted report. I am a former Minister and an elected Member of Parliament and it is appropriate for the unredacted report to be seen by individuals in Opposition parties. Otherwise, the inference that political motives are involved will continue to be made.

Mr David Jones: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another disturbing element of the report is the handling of the documentation of the inquiry: its transmission from the Welsh Office to the Welsh Assembly Government, and what happened when it was in the hands of the Welsh Assembly Government? Does he agree that those matters also need further clarification?

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Ian C. Lucas: The disappearance of documents at so many stages during the history of this matter creates huge difficulty for anyone expecting a proper inquiry. All those matters need to be questioned and investigated further.

The difficult with the Macur review, which in many ways gives valuable information that we did not have before, is that it leaves many questions hanging in the air, and all questions need to be addressed. The content is so dense and difficult that it will take time and hard work to get through to its core. There are many disturbing questions, and more now than before the then Secretary of State for Wales made his statement on Thursday.

5.3 pm

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on securing today’s important debate. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not refer to all their speeches in detail, but I have a number of questions for the Minister, whom I welcome to his new role. We are all anxious that he can speak for as long as possible on this important subject.

I commend the thoughtful speech of my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), in whose constituency many of the care homes referred to are situated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn), the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) all took part in the debate.

I will come to the redactions, which are a cause of great concern, but when they are connected with legal proceedings, court proceedings and the like, I hope that new prosecutions will be secured. I also hope that if sentences are passed, the judiciary are not unduly lenient. These were most heinous of crimes, not only because they involved the sexual and emotional abuse of children, great evils though those are, but because they involved a group of children who the criminals who perpetuated these acts knew would never be believed. They were criminal and evil on both counts, and I hope the judiciary do not get soft when sentencing.

The abuse that was carried out in care homes in north Wales shames us all. As the Waterhouse inquiry found, it was widespread and persistent physical and sexual violence against young boys and girls. That it was perpetuated by those who should have been looking after those children, in homes where they should have felt safe, just adds to the sheer horror of what occurred. Those of us who lived in the areas around those homes well remember that it was common parlance to talk about the “naughty boys’ homes”. That was how they were regarded at the time.

Our thoughts must be with the survivors of that abuse, who were let down for a second time when they reached out for help and none was given. It was because of concerns raised by survivors about the scope of the Waterhouse inquiry that the Macur review was commissioned. Lady Justice Macur’s foreword to her review says that she hopes

“to achieve the finality that many participants in this process will desire.”

Indeed, that was what we all hoped for.

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Since the review was published last week, however, a number of survivors have expressed their disappointment with its conclusions, and that has been echoed by many Members today. The NSPCC has expressed concern that the “lengthy, drawn out process” of the review

“risks deterring victims from coming forward.”

I sincerely hope that is not the case, and that survivors will have their voices heard clearly by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse led by Justice Lowell Goddard.

Last week, the then Secretary of State for Wales said that the Goddard inquiry would open an office in Cardiff to engage with survivors in Wales. Can the Minister provide further information about when that will occur, and crucially, will he outline how the Goddard inquiry will engage with survivors and participants in other parts of Wales, including north Wales?

We know that physical and sexual abuse leaves a lasting impact on the lives of those affected and that, no matter how long ago that abuse occurred, survivors need support to rebuild their lives. The publicity surrounding the review will have triggered deeply painful memories for many survivors and may encourage others to seek help for the first time. Will the Minister set out exactly what support is available to those who come forward? Has he or his predecessor had conversations with agencies, including the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, to ensure that help is highlighted to those who need it?

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales has highlighted the need for clarity on why the redactions were made. Redacting information is a highly sensitive area, because it seems to conflict with the transparency that inquiries such as the Macur review should provide. It is vital to get the balance right. We know that it is necessary to redact some information, when criminal investigations are involved, but our view is that it should be done in as few cases as possible and must be justified to survivors. How many redactions were made in addition to those requested by Lady Justice Macur? What methodology was used when deciding which names were redacted?

I want to ask the Minister specifically about the process that led to the redactions, which is described in paragraphs 1.44 and 1.45 of the report and has been raised previously in the debate. Lady Justice Macur writes that she received unsolicited letters, first from the head of the Government Legal Service and then from the Secretary of State for Justice, about the extent to which her report would name those subject to unsubstantiated allegations. The Justice Secretary “strongly urged” Lady Justice Macur not to name those concerned and suggested that she

“underestimated the unfairness and prejudice to such individuals of including their names in the Report”.

To be clear, those names have been redacted in the published version of the report, but the Justice Secretary was arguing that they should not have been included in the first place. Lady Justice Macur decided not to follow that course of action. It is unfortunate that the Justice Secretary made that approach, given the understandable sensitivity that surrounds the question of redactions. Is the Minister satisfied that the Justice Secretary was right to make that approach, particularly in light of the fact that his was one of the commissioning Departments, and does he support Lady Justice Macur’s approach to those subject to unsubstantiated allegations?

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My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham referred to the need for a longer debate on this issue. Can the Minister confirm that that might be granted in Government time?

The abuse described in the Waterhouse inquiry and again in the Macur review is truly staggering. I hope that the review is the start of a process whereby survivors will feel that their voices are being heard. As we move forward, it is imperative that anyone who has committed these gravest of crimes against the most vulnerable, no matter how long ago, is promptly brought to justice. The survivors of this abuse, and the people of Wales, have waited long enough.

5.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Guto Bebb): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank hon. Members for their warm welcome for my appointment to this position; it is appreciated. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) made the point that this is not the baptism that one would have expected or anticipated, and this has been a difficult week of trying to get to grips with a very difficult subject area, but the way in which the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) has approached the debate and the way in which other hon. Members have contributed are to be applauded and are certainly appreciated from my point of view.

As a north Walian MP, I am acutely aware of the dark shadow that this issue has thrown over north Wales, and the rest of Wales for that matter, for far too long. Therefore, it is appropriate to congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd on securing the debate and on how it has been conducted. All the contributions made by MPs from north Wales have shown the seriousness with which we want to approach the issue and the importance of ensuring that lessons are learned in order to ensure that we can give some clarity and confidence to the people in north Wales, in accordance with the comments made by the hon. Member for Wrexham.

Ann Clwyd: Not only in north Wales.

Guto Bebb: I accept that point. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for her work on these issues, and while I am paying tributes, I would like to say that the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd is clearly following in her predecessor’s footsteps in highlighting concerns on this issue.

It is important that I try to respond to the questions that have been asked. It would be easy for me to comment on how the Waterhouse inquiry was established and the concerns about the Waterhouse inquiry. We could talk about how the Macur review was established and the concerns there. However, the key point is that I have limited time to deal with the questions that have been raised, so I will try to respond to all of them, and if I fail, I will certainly ensure that I write to hon. Members on those specific issues.

It is important to make this clarification at the outset. The hon. Member for Wrexham highlighted a degree of concern that the previous Secretary of State for Wales made the statement on Thursday and subsequently this debate is being responded to by the Wales Office. It is important to point out that the Macur review was

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jointly commissioned. In view of the fact that the original Waterhouse report was commissioned by the Wales Office and in view of the fact that this report was a joint commission, I think it is appropriate that the Wales Office responds, but clearly questions can be asked of both Departments. The Departments will consult each other in responding to any further questions from the hon. Gentleman; and clearly, if there are any omissions in the speech that I make today, further questions can be asked. The Departments will work together to try to give answers that will satisfy hon. Members in relation to the concerns that they have raised.

Clearly, the key concern highlighted by hon. Members across the Chamber this afternoon relates to redactions. Those concerns have been expressed not only by hon. Members, but by civil society in Wales and of course by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. I am very pleased to be able to report that I have spoken this morning to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. It is clearly appropriate that we take her concerns seriously. I will write, on behalf of the Department, to the Children’s Commissioner to respond to some of the concerns that she has expressed, and will highlight the reasons and the methodology, which have been provided in the public domain, in relation to why some of the redactions were undertaken. The Children’s Commissioner is more than welcome to put that letter in the public domain in due course. There is no intention whatever to hide from any of the questions in relation to redactions.

In responding fully on the issue of redactions, I think it is fair to say that this concern was raised before publication of the report, by the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley, and the statement was very clear that the redactions would be as minimal as possible. That is why, when we published the report, we also published the two letters: the letter from the Cabinet Office and the letter from the Government’s legal department explaining why there was a need to do some redactions in the report. It is fair to say that in the report Lady Justice Macur herself states that there are certain details that should be considered for redaction; and again, the important thing here is for me to try to explain on what basis those decisions were taken.

Clearly, the first reason for redactions, which is crucial and understood, I suspect, by all Members of the House, is that we would not want to do anything that would potentially compromise any ongoing police investigations and any criminal proceedings. It is clear that a tribute was paid in the main Chamber on Thursday to the work of the National Crime Agency through Operation Pallial. It would be a travesty of justice if the publication of names in the Macur report without being redacted properly were to threaten in any way, shape or form the possibility of further criminal investigations and further charges being levied. The danger is of undermining any further criminal proceedings, which would be a further betrayal of the needs of the victims in north Wales, who want to see justice done at the end of the day. In terms of redactions, it is clear that we have an obligation to ensure that nothing printed and published in this report could in any way, shape or form damage the possibility of any further criminal proceedings or of further legal action being taken as a result of criminal investigations that are now forthcoming.

I come now to the second category. Clearly, a significant number of names of victims of abuse have been redacted. That, again, is a legal requirement. We are required

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under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 to ensure that the identities of those who have suffered sexual abuse are protected; they have a right to anonymity. Therefore, those redactions have been done in order to protect people who have already suffered. It would be wrong to have people’s names dragged through the public sphere once more. Those people have already suffered so much as a result of the abuse that they suffered.

The redactions in those two categories have been overseen by Sue Gray, the director general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office. The letter from Sue Gray was published at the same time as this report, so again, the reasoning behind the redactions was certainly communicated and will be communicated again to the Children’s Commissioner, as I stated.

The third category, which I suspect is the one causing most concern to hon. Members in view of the speeches that have been made, is those individuals who have been accused of abuse or speculated to be involved in abuse, who have not been subject to a police investigation, who have not been convicted of a criminal offence and whose name is not in the public domain in the context of child abuse. It is important to state that in the report Lady Justice Macur advises that the publication of those names would be

“unfair in two respects and unwise in a third.”

That is not the Government—not the Wales Office—it is Lady Justice Macur herself. She states:

“First, the nature of the information against them sometimes derives from multiple hearsay”.

I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd in relation to the use of hearsay, but again, that was not a recommendation coming from Government; it was from Lady Justice Macur herself. She also states that

“second, these individuals will have no proper opportunity to address the unattributed and, sometimes, unspecified allegations of disreputable conduct made against them”.

Again, that is a statement made by Lady Justice Macur. She continued,

“and third, police investigations may be compromised”.

Now, I have already touched on the issue of criminal investigations. We do have an obligation to highlight where we believe there is wrongdoing but we also have an obligation to ensure that we are not pointing the finger at individuals who might be completely and utterly innocent. We all know that there is a danger that publishing names without any specific allegations being made and without any specific justification could create a witch hunt, which is the last thing that a responsible Government or Parliament should be involved with.

It is important to highlight that the redactions were not undertaken to protect any individuals or to damage the report. They were undertaken to ensure the integrity of the report. I understand the concerns because, as a Member from north Wales, I read the report on Thursday in no way anticipating that I would be responding to the debate today. However, I think that the arguments presented by the Treasury Solicitor and by the Cabinet Office are not without merit. Indeed, I challenge hon. Members to state whether they believe that those arguments are incorrect.

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Ian C. Lucas: I accept many of the arguments that the Minister makes, but why were the two names I mentioned earlier unredacted while many other names were redacted?

Guto Bebb: I will try to respond to that in my next few comments. Just to finish the comments I was making, I understand the frustration and the feeling that there could have been fewer redactions, but it is imperative that the reasoning, in the round, is understood by hon. Members. I have tried to explain why those redactions have been made. I have explained very clearly that they were undertaken as a result of advice given, which I think was quite reasonable. I hope that hon. Members will take that into account. There has been no attempt to mislead or to not be very clear as to the basis for the changes. We are more than happy to correspond on the issue if the hon. Member for Wrexham feels the need to take it any further.

Albert Owen: On the issue of redaction, does the Minister understand the concerns of many people that only Government Departments saw the unredacted version? He may be coming to that. I think it is hugely important.

Guto Bebb: Yes, I will touch on that issue, which was also raised by the hon. Member for Wrexham. It is simply not correct that only Government Ministers have seen the uncorrected report. It might be correct that the only politicians who have seen the report are Government politicians but it is not only the Government who have seen it. Clearly, an unredacted copy has been sent to the Goddard review, Operation Pallial, Operation Orion and Operation Hydrant.

It is simply not correct to say that the only people who have seen an unredacted version of the report are Government Ministers. If the argument is that we should provide that information to all elected politicians but not to the general public, it is a completely different argument. Given the way in which politicians are viewed, I am not sure that would contribute any further to the trust that the hon. Member for Wrexham seeks.

On the methodology, I have tried to explain why the redactions were undertaken. The two letters that we received have been published. I will write to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales highlighting again the reasons for the redactions. I am not claiming that the response will satisfy all people’s concerns, but it is clear that the Wales Office and the Government ensured that the advice that was provided was published at the same time as the report. We have provided the explanation for the methodology and we will provide further explanations.

I understand that the hon. Members for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd highlighted concerns but I think that those have been addressed. If they need to be addressed in further detail, I hope that our letter to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales will provide that. I am more than happy to respond to any questions received.

Paul Flynn: Does the Minister know that there is a precedent for revealing to Members of Parliament reports that are entirely secret? The report that I saw as a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs—the Operation Tiberius report—was an extraordinary document that named many people including criminals and police, who worked together through the freemasonry movement.

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We inspected that report under strict terms of security. We were not allowed to take our phones in. We were watched the whole time and we were not allowed to take any notes. There is a precedent for allowing Members of Parliament to see the unredacted report.

Guto Bebb: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point but hon. Members have made arguments that the redactions are damaging public confidence. I am unsure how the idea he offers would contribute to solving the issue of public confidence because a very limited amount of people in the political sphere would be responding. A couple of other questions were asked by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd—

Ian C. Lucas: Will the Minister give way?

Guto Bebb: Could I just answer this question because I am aware of the time? Another question was asked by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd about recommendation five. The issue relates to the consideration of criminal charges relating to events referred to in paragraphs 645 to 675 of the report. It does not relate to the actions of the Wales Office or of any Government Department. The police and Crown Prosecution Service are aware of the specifics of the matter, and that issue is a matter for them to consider, not the Government.

The hon. Members for Clwyd South and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd asked how many redactions, in addition to those that were a result of the advice given, were made by the Government. The answer is zero. Not a single further redaction was made. The redactions that have been made were all in accordance with the advice given and the explanation that has been provided.

The hon. Member for Wrexham asked about the publication of some names and not others. Again, the letter from the Treasury Solicitor sets out the methodology for redacting such names, saying very clearly that they are the names of people who are rumoured or speculated to be involved in abuse, who have not been convicted of a criminal offence and/or whose name is not in the public domain in the context of child abuse. That is in the letter from the Treasury Solicitor so the reasoning has been provided.

Ian C. Lucas: I do not accept for one moment that those principles apply to the name Peter Morrison. I do not think that any reasonable person could reach that conclusion. That name is in the public domain and it is in the report. I cannot understand why that name has been redacted. The redaction of that one name has had a massive impact on the public confidence in the whole report.

Guto Bebb: I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying but I have attempted to provide an explanation as to why the redactions have been as they have been.

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I need to touch on a few other issues. I do not think there is any denial of the inadequate nature of the records management, which is a point that was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones). It is acknowledged that the records management has been poor. It was not to anybody’s satisfaction and it is fair to say that lessons have been learnt by the Wales Office, and I presume that the Welsh Assembly will take some of the report’s advice on records retention very seriously. However, it is fair to state that Lady Justice Macur is clear that she received

“the majority of, if not all, relevant documentation”

and that she is

“confident in the conclusions I reach in this Report in light of numerous, varied and cumulative sources of information available”.

Again, that is not the Government’s line. That is a comment from Lady Macur regarding the lack of record-keeping or the problematic element of the record-keeping.

An important point is contained in paragraph 2.6 of the report, in which Lady Macur states quite clearly that 523 boxes of files were received, some 400 of which originated from the Wales Office. Although that is unsatisfactory compared with what we would expect from a Government Department, I stress the fact that Lady Macur does not believe that her conclusions would have been different if she had received more information than that which was provided.

We have touched on establishment names only very quickly. I have tried to explain why redactions have happened, and we are more than happy to respond to any further questions from hon. Members who believe that there is an issue there.

The other point that I would like to touch upon just before I finish is that Lady Justice Macur adds, for the sake of clarity,

“At no time have Ministers or their officials attempted to influence me in the conduct of the review or the conclusions I have drawn.”

There is a view here that there is a lack of transparency and clarity but, on every aspect, we have tried to offer an explanation and even Lady Justice Macur has said that she was not subject to any undue pressure.

I do not think I will have time to respond to the question from the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) about the Welsh language or to the question from the hon. Member for Clwyd South about the Goddard inquiry, but I will write to both Members.

The debate has been difficult and there are lessons to be learnt. We will write to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and respond to any further questions. The Macur report was certainly worth doing and it has been of value.

5.30 pm

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).